My two-week adventure in Cusco was filled with an entirely new perspective of Peruvian culture. The adventure actually started before we even landed. Looking out of the window, all I could see was an endless array of mountains and our tiny little plane swerving through them. It has been a long time since I had seen mountains because the Amazon is so flat, and the view took my breath away.
View from the plane flying into Cusco
When we finally got settled into Cusco and began to explore the city, I noticed these small dried green leaves for sale everywhere we went. I soon discovered that this leaf was actually coca, the plant that is used in the production of cocaine. When dried, this plant isn’t illegal or addictive and actually has medicinal purposes of alleviating symptoms of altitude sickness and helping you to feel more awake and energized. This became my lifesaver during hikes and long days in the high elevation city.
Over the course of the week we got to visit numerous landscapes, all of which had breathtaking views. My favorite landscape we visited was the cloud forest. One class day was dedicated to hiking through tropical cloud forest near the Wayqecha Biological Station and learning about the characteristics that make it a unique and important ecosystem for biodiversity. The extreme elevational gradient provides a habitat for a wide range of species including epiphytes and birds. Walking on the hanging bridges through the canopy walkway allowed us to really see the diversity gradient of the amazing cloud forest. I have a slight fear of heights so I was trembling a bit but the view was well worth it.
One of the bridges we walked on through the cloud forest
We also got to visit the renowned Parque de la Papa where we got to see firsthand how the community grows and manages up to 1,367 varieties of potatoes. We were given multiple varieties of potatoes as a snack and each type had its own unique flavor that I had never tasted in a potato before. The yellow potatoes were my favorite, and they tasted sweeter than the potatoes we have back in the United States. The potatoes also came with a salty cheese and a spicy sauce. After learning about potatoes, we got to learn how the women in the community use textile weaving to support their families, and then were able to watch the women of the community create vibrant colors of fabric and weave them into unique and very intricate designs. We ended the trip with lunch, overlooking the beautiful mountains and eating more potatoes that filled our big bellies.
Just a few of the varieties of potatoes we saw and learned about at Parque le Papa
On my mid-semester break, I got to do a couple of really incredible things.
- I got to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams of visiting Machu Picchu! One of the best parts was getting to do it with all of my classmates. We all signed up to do an extra hike in Machu Picchu to the mountains above the ruins because we wanted an amazing view, but I had no idea what the hike would be like. The start of the hike was over 2000 stairs in a vertical direction. If I had known how strenuous the hike was going to be, I probably wouldn’t have brought 3 jackets. Nevertheless, finishing the hike with all of my friends and looking down at the Machu Picchu mountains was an unforgettable surreal experience that I will hold close to my heart forever and ever.
- I got to visit a unique place called Rainbow Mountain. This mountain was covered by a glacier that melted in 2015 due to the effects of climate change. This mountain gets its beautiful colors from iron, copper, and other minerals in the soil. The exposure of these minerals is something that could impact not just the landscape, but also the community surrounding this area. It was absolutely insane to see something so beautiful, but a direct representation of the true and real effects of climate change.